New Year’s Resolution #2: Access
2015 has been a big year for accessibility in the theatre. No longer is the only way to enjoy plays and musicals in a theatre. It doesn’t matter what sized screen you were watching, there was an opportunity to engage with musicals, opera, ballet and plays. The entertainment world has set itself a pretty high bar to beat next year!
New Year’s Resolution #2: Make theatre accessible to even more people
Once upon a time, the art of theatre was only available inside a theatre. You either to a live production or you didn’t see it at all. This has slowly been changing over the past decade with the introduction of NT Live bringing acclaimed plays into cinemas, The Met Opera beaming their productions to cinemas around the world, Billy Elliot and Shrek recording performances for DVD release and Legally Blonde televising their opening night performance. But nothing has compared to the achievements of 2015.
Where to start?
NBC returned with its third live musical production. After two classical productions over the last two years, the American broadcasting network followed up The Sound of Music and Peter Pan with the more contemporary The Wiz. Viewer numbers were up this year. Exciting new partnerships were formed as Cirque du Soleil collaborated on this landmark production. And the show was bursting with plenty of powerhouse celebrity talent from Queen Latifah and Ne-Yo to Mary J. Blige and newcomer Shanice Williams. But the true test will come next year when the NBC production (for the first time ever) transitions to Broadway. Will people pay to see it live after seeing it on television? This is a big test for the future of streaming entertainment so let’s hope it is a success.
Jumping on the live musical bandwagon, Fox announced its own musical follow up in January with a star studded live performance of Grease. Keke Palmer, Carly Rae Jepsen, Vanessa Hudgens, Aaron Tveit and Julianne Hough will lead an incredible ensemble sure to stir up the attention of their young following which propelled previous hits such as High School Musical into popularity.
Closer to home, Opera Australia has been leading the accessibility bandwagon for a couple of years. They have recently been taking advantage of opportunities to move their fan favourite operas out of the theatre and into alternative locations such as Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour and performances on a Gold Coast beach. But 2015 saw another big step due to a partnership with ABC. Featuring a cast full of Australian favourites, Opera Australia broadcast a new Australian opera over four nights titled The Divorce. The aim? To show mainstream audiences that opera isn’t that scary . . . and isn’t actually that different from your usual melodramatic television drama. Hopefully this is the first of many accessible innovations from Opera Australia over the coming years!
The final big achievement of 2015 is something completely new to the live performance industry. Global live streaming. Off-Broadway show Daddy Long Legs brought cameras into their small theatre, set up a streaming website and broadcast their show live around the world for anyone to tune in. The stats and figures behind this live broadcast have recently been revealed to show that a massive 150,000 people tuned in and the hashtag trended nationally on Twitter (beating the Golden Globes!). While it may not have blown up the box office with ticket requests, it did have significant impact on another area of the show . . . merchandise. In the ten days following the livestream, cast album sales increased by 484% – which is pretty sizeable considering that most cast albums don’t make their investment back (maybe this is the solution?). Exploration into this new theatrical medium will be refined over the coming years, but hopefully some innovative producers in 2016 will grab hold and give it a go!
2015 was a big year for accessing theatre. Many of these strategies are slowly taking off with Fox jumping on the bandwagon with Grease Live, NBC returning with another live (yet to be announced) musical next December and Disney bringing back live-action musicals with a new production of Beauty and the Beast. But who knows what else will come up in 2016 with the goal of exposing more people to the theatre.